Expelled Tennessee lawmaker Justin Jones reappointed to state legislature

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Rep. Justin Jones will reclaim his seat in the state House of Representatives with the backing of Nashville’s Council, which voted to reappoint him four days after he was expelled for leading chants for gun reform with a bullhorn on the chamber floor.

In one of its first legislative actions following a shooting at a Nashville elementary school that killed six people, the House Republican supermajority ejected Jones with a 72-25 vote for defying House decorum — making him the first House member to be removed from elected office for a decorum violation.

Nashville’s progressive-leaning council, responsible for filling the vacancy, overwhelmingly voted Jones back into the District 52 House seat Monday as an interim representative until a special election can be held to permanently fill the position. Jones is eligible to run for reelection.

Members of the House called for the expulsion of Jones, D-Nashville, Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville — dubbed the “Tennessee Three” — after they approached the House podium between bills during the session without being recognized, breaking chamber rules.

Pearson, who also used a bullhorn during the floor protest, was expelled in a 69-26 decision after hours of fierce debate. But the House failed by one vote to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to oust Johnson.

In Shelby County, at least one of 13 county commissioners has vowed to similarly reappoint Justin Pearson to his house seat. The commission will meet Wednesday to consider the matter.

Justin Pearson, Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones walk through a crowd of supporters at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville on April 6, 2023.

Justin Pearson, Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones walk through a crowd of supporters at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville on April 6, 2023.

RACIST HISTORY: In a state fraught with racist history, GOP expulsion of ‘Tennessee Three’ hits a nerve

Biden administration, NAACP back ousted lawmakers

The expulsions drew a national outcry. President Joe Biden spoke by phone with the ousted lawmakers and Vice President Kamala Harris visited them in Nashville. The NAACP described the ousters as “horrific (but) not surprising.”

“Extremist legislators, funded by corporate interests, have a history of undermining our democracy and failing to protect their constituents – especially in the South,” the NAACP said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that Republicans may think they won in Tennessee, “but their fascism is only further radicalizing and awakening an earthquake of young people, both in the South and across the nation.”

Why were Tennessee Democrats being expelled?

Jones, Pearson and Johnson, dubbed the “Tennessee three,” faced expulsion for protesting over gun reform after three students and three staff members of The Covenant School were killed in a shooting in the school on March 27. Three days later, Jones and Pearson approached the House podium without being recognized, a breach of chamber rules. They led protesters in the galleries in several chants calling for gun reform.

“Their actions are and will always be unacceptable, and they break several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor,” Sexton claimed days later in a social media post. “Their actions and beliefs that they could be arrested on the House floor were an effort, unfortunately, to make themselves the victims.”

Johnson has suggested race was likely a factor on why Jones and Pearson were ousted.

“I don’t think there’s a question how those two young, Black men were spoken to was in a different manner than the way I was spoken to,” she said.

But GOP leaders have said Johnson’s actions were less egregious – she was a less-active participant and had not used a megaphone. The expulsions had nothing to do with race but were necessary to avoid setting a precedent that lawmakers’ disruptions of House proceedings would be tolerated, they said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tennessee house expulsion was short-lived as member returns to seat

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